Influenza (flu) and your baby
Influenza is a serious disease. It’s more than just a runny nose and sore throat. Instead, it can cause a person to be very sick.
Influenza is commonly called the “flu.” Many people say they have the flu when they really have just a cold or a cough. If your baby gets the flu, it can cause serious illness. And for some, it can be life-threatening. It’s really important for babies and young children to be protected from the flu.
The flu is easily spread from person to person. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus spreads through the air. Your baby can get infected with the flu if she breathes the virus in. She also can get infected if she touches something (like a toy) that has the flu virus on it and then she touches her nose, eyes or mouth.
The best way to protect your baby from the flu is to get her the flu vaccine each year before flu season starts in October. She can get the vaccine from her health care provider. Many pharmacies and work places also offer the vaccine each fall. Even though your baby is more likely to get the flu during flu season (October through May), she can get it any time of year.
How do you know if your baby has the flu?
Your baby may have the flu if she has any of these signs or symptoms:
- Cough (Don’t give over-the-counter cough and cold products to your baby or young child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these medicines can cause serious health problems for children.)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Being tired
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Fever and most other symptoms can last a week or longer.
Does your baby need the flu vaccine?
Yes. The flu can be dangerous for all children, even those who are healthy. About 2 in 5 children who die from flu complications don’t have other chronic health problems, like asthma, heart disease or diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that everyone older than 6 months get the flu vaccine each year. It’s especially important for children younger than 5 to get the vaccine because they’re more likely than older kids to have serious health problems caused by the flu.
The 2014-2015 flu vaccine protects your baby against seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 flu (a kind of flu that spread around the world in 2009). It’s important to get your child vaccinated each year because flu viruses are always changing and protection from the vaccine only lasts about 1 year.
The flu vaccine is safe for most children. But check with your baby's provider if your child had the flu vaccine before and had a serious reaction to it. Your baby's provider may want to watch your baby closely after getting the vaccine to check for a reaction. If your child has an egg allergy, talk to his provider to decide if it’s OK for your child to get the flu vaccine.
How does your baby get the flu vaccine?
There are two ways to get the flu vaccine:
- Flu shot. Children older than 6 months can get the flu shot.
- Flu mist. This is a nasal spray (a spray you put in the nose). Children older than 2 years can get the flu mist unless they have certain health conditions (like asthma or heart and lung problems) or are taking certain medicines for a long time, like aspirin (called long-term aspirin therapy).
If you’re not sure which vaccine is best for your baby, ask his health care provider or visit flu.gov.
Your baby gets two doses of the flu vaccine in the first year. He then gets one dose each year after.
How is flu treated?
If you think your baby has the flu, call his health care provider right away. His provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine to prevent or treat the flu. An antiviral is a medicine that kills infections caused by viruses. For flu, antivirals work best if used within 2 days of getting sick.
If your baby is at high risk for flu, his provider may prescribe an antiviral as soon as your baby begins to have flu symptoms. All children younger than 5 are at high risk for flu, especially children younger than 2. Children who were born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or who have chronic health conditions, like asthma or sickle cell disease, also are at high risk.
Two medicines are approved in the United States for preventing or treating the flu in children:
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), for children as young as 2 weeks
- Zanamivir (Relenza®), for children older than 5
Be sure your child gets lots of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. She may not want to eat much. Try giving her small meals to help her body get better.
If your baby seems uncomfortable from a fever, ask her provider if you can give her infant’s or children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®). If your baby has a fever, don’t give her aspirin without checking with her health care provider. Aspirin can cause a rare but life-threatening liver disorder called Reye syndrome in children with certain illnesses, such as colds, the flu and chickenpox.
How can you and your baby keep from spreading the flu?
Everyone older than 6 months needs to get the flu vaccine. This means you, especially if you have or take care of a baby younger than 6 months. Babies this age are too young to get the flu vaccine. Getting the vaccine can help keep you from spreading the flu.
If you or your baby has the flu, you can spread it to others. Here’s how to help prevent the flu from spreading:
- Don’t kiss your baby on or around the mouth. But a hug is a good thing!
- Teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or his arm. Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after caring for your baby. You also can use alcohol-based hand rubs.
- Use hot, soapy water or a dishwasher to clean your baby’s dishes and utensils
- Don’t share any of your baby’s dishes, glasses, utensils or his toothbrush.
- Limit your baby’s contact with other people.
When should you call your baby’s health care provider?
Contact your child's health care provider right away if he has any of these signs or symptoms:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting with you
- Being so irritable that she doesn’t want to be held
- Flu symptoms that improve but return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
For more information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Last reviewed January 2015
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there any way to prevent RSV?
The season for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in the United States is usually October to April. It's wise to take precautions to help prevent it. The main thing to do is wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water. Make sure everyone who touches your baby has clean hands. Keep your baby away from crowds of people. Do not allow anyone to smoke around your baby. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and don't share cups, spoons and forks with others. RSV is very contagious. Almost all babies get it before the age of 2. Talk to your baby's health care provider about ways to prevent RSV.
What is diphtheria?
Diphtheria is a disease caused by a bacteria. The disease causes a thick coating in the nose, throat and airway. It can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis or even death.
Diphtheria can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms may include a slow onset of a sore throat and low-grade fever.
The DTaP (for children) and Tdap (for adults) vaccines can protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Your baby gets the DTaP vaccine in four doses: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 15 and 18 months.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you’re protected against diphtheria. If you need to get vaccinated, get the adult vaccine before pregnancy.
What is Haemophilus influenzae type b?
Hib is a serious disease caused by bacteria. It usually affects young children.
Hib is spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Hib can cause meningitis, pneumonia and other serious health problems.
The Hib vaccine protects against this disease. Your baby gets the Hib vaccine in three to four doses: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months (some brands of the vaccine require a shot at 6 months, but others don’t) and between 12 and 15 months.
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus. It can lead to serious liver disease. Signs of hepatitis B infection include belly pain, joint pain, dark urine, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue and jaundice. However, most people who have hepatitis B infection never show any signs.
You can catch hepatitis B if you’re in contact with bodily fluids of someone who has it. For example, you can get the virus from kissing or having sex with an infected person. You also can get it if you share needles with someone who has the virus. During pregnancy, a mom with hepatitis B can pass the infection on to her baby during childbirth. Pregnant women are tested for hepatitis B at a prenatal care visit.
Most people with hepatitis B get better and may not need treatment. However, if you have chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B infection, you may need treatment with medicines called antivirals that fight the virus. If the liver is badly damaged, you may need a liver transplant. Babies and children are much more likely than adults to get chronic hepatitis B infection.
The hepatitis B vaccine can prevent infection in babies and adults. Your baby gets three doses of hepatitis B vaccine: at birth, 2 months and between 6 and 18 months.
What is measles?
Measles is a disease that is easily spread and causes rash, cough and fever. In some cases, it can lead to diarrhea, ear infection, pneumonia, brain damage or even death. Measles can cause serious health problems in young children. It also can be especially harmful to pregnant women and can cause miscarriage.
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against these three diseases. Your baby gets the MMR vaccine in two doses: the first between 12 and 15 months, the second between 4 and 6 years.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you’re protected against measles. If you need to get vaccinated, get the MMR vaccine before pregnancy. Wait at least 1 month before trying to get pregnant after getting the shot.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord. It’s usually caused by a virus or bacteria. The infection can spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing drinks.
Most people get meningitis from a virus. If you get this kind of meningitis, you’ll probably get better in a few days without treatment. But the meningitis caused by bacteria can lead to brain damage and even death.
Adults may have symptoms like headache, fever and a stiff neck. These symptoms are sometimes mistaken for the flu. Babies may show different symptoms, like high fever, constant crying or even seizures.
If you think anyone if your family has meningitis, see your health care provider right away.
The Hib vaccine can protect against bacteria that cause meningitis. Your baby gets the Hib vaccine in three to four doses: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 12 and 15 months. Some brands of the vaccine require a shot at 6 months, but others don’t. Ask your provider if you have questions about when your baby gets the vaccine.
What is mumps?
Mumps is a disease that spreads easily from person to person, usually through coughing or sneezing.
It causes fever, headache and swollen glands around the jaw. It can lead to hearing loss, meningitis and painful, swollen testicles in men.
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine prevents against these diseases. Your baby gets the MMR vaccine in two doses: the first between 12 and 15 months, the second between 4 and 6 years.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you’re protected against mumps. If you need to get vaccinated, get the MMR vaccine before pregnancy. Wait 1 month before trying to get pregnant after getting the shot.
What is pertussis?
Pertussis (whooping cough) is a disease caused by bacteria. Pertussis leads to coughing and choking that can last for several weeks. Babies who catch pertussis can get very sick, and some may die. Most deaths from pertussis happen in babies less than 4 months old.
The number of pertussis cases in this country has more than doubled since 2000. This may be because protection from the childhood vaccine fades over time. In the last few years, there have been several large pertussis outbreaks. Outbreaks are common in places like schools and hospitals. The disease spreads easily from person to person, usually by coughing or sneezing. Most infants who get pertussis catch it from someone in their family, often a parent.
The DTaP vaccine for children and the Tdap vaccine for adults can protect you and your children from pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. Your baby gets the DTaP vaccine in four doses: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 15 and 18 months. The pertussis part of the vaccine may weaken as your child gets older. So for the best protection, she gets a fifth shot before she starts school, around 4 to 6 years old.
All new parents need the pertussis vaccine. Until your baby gets her first pertussis shot at 2 months, the best way to protect her is for you to get the adult vaccine before pregnancy or soon after you have your baby. The vaccine prevents you from getting pertussis and passing it along to your baby. Caregivers, close friends and relatives who spend time with your baby should get vaccinated, too.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs caused by bacteria or viruses.
Pneumonia can cause coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. You can catch it from another person, even if he doesn’t look or feel sick.
Several vaccines can protect you from pneumonia by preventing infection from certain bacteria or viruses. One vaccine that protects against pneumonia is pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). Your baby gets the PCV vaccine in four doses: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 12 and 15 months.
Other vaccines that help protect against pneumonia include:
- Influenza (flu)
- , mumps, rubella (MMR)
- , and (DTaP for children and Tdap for adults)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant and are at risk for pneumonia, your provider may recommend that you get vaccinated before pregnancy. Talk to your provider if you think you may be at risk for pneumonia.
What is tetanus?
Tetanus (also called lockjaw) is a disease caused by bacteria that attacks the nervous system (that includes the brain, spinal cord and nerves).
Stiffness in the neck or stomach muscles may be early symptoms of tetanus. Tetanus also can cause the jaw to “lock,” so that a person can’t open his mouth or swallow. It also can cause serious, painful spasms of all muscles. It sometimes causes death.
Tetanus is not passed from one person to another. Instead, the bacteria that causes tetanus can enter your body through a break in your skin and cause infection. For example, if you step on a nail, cut your skin in an accident, or get a splinter, you may be at risk of tetanus infection.
The DTaP (for children) and Tdap (for adults) vaccines can protect you from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Your baby gets the DTaP vaccine in four doses: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 15 and 18 months.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you’re protected against tetanus. If you need to get vaccinated, get the adult vaccine before pregnancy.
What’s an umbilical hernia?
This common hernia in infants usually appears as a soft lump or bulge beneath the belly button. You may see it most clearly when your baby is crying, pushing her belly outward. It happens when a portion of the intestine bulges through the abdominal wall. This happens when the muscles in the area fail to close around the belly button after the umbilical cord falls off. It's more common in girls, particularly African Americans, or premature babies.
Umbilical hernias usually aren't serious or painful to the baby and they go away without treatment by the fifth birthday - often much sooner. If you suspect your baby has a hernia, call your child's health care provider. It’ll be important to watch it for changes over time. If it enlarges or swells, or if you baby has severe pain, vomiting or weakness, call your child's health provider right away, as a serious complication could exist. If surgery is required, it’s usually a quick fix.